– By Andy Thurai (Twitter: @AndyThurai)
[Original version of this blog appeared on PandoDaily magazine.]
Though Snowden is long gone now, the ripple effects that he created are going to remain for a long time to come. If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you read about the NSA surveillance programs PRISM and XKeyscoe before you continue with this article.
Essentially, these government programs are creating nervous times for my Canadian, European and APAC customers who are using US cloud providers. Given the very strict data residency and data privacy requirements to protect their citizens’ sensitive data in these parts of the world, through “guilt by association” alone, the latest incidents have implicated most corporations that move their data across boundaries. One thing is certain: these programs that are exposed because someone came out in the public. Just because a specific country’s cloud provider hasn’t been accused yet (or not found guilty) doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not doing the same thing. There is a chance that they might be doing it and have not been caught yet.
Unfortunately, the cloud community spent years alleviating the fear of moving data to the cloud by entities. Those days, the fear was about hackers and disgruntled employees/partners accidentally or willfully exposing their data. Now they need to fight an uphill battle of convincing the entities not about hackers, but about legal entities and governments.
Foreign governments are magnifying these concerns even further. Here is some classic news from Germany about setting policies and sanctioning US firms. (http://www.industryweek.com/public-policy/germany-demands-sanctions-us-firms-over-privacy-0). Though the intent might be good, the goals and net effect of such actions might be dubious at best. The cost associated with sanctioning cloud providers coupled with damage to the brands’ reputations is far greater than any benefit that might be derived from the compensation obtained.
There are reports suggesting that US cloud computing industry could lose as much as $35 billion over the next three years. (http://www.itif.org/publications/how-much-will-prism-cost-us-cloud-computing-industry.) A recent CSA survey provides an early indication of this (https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/download/government-access-to-information-survey-results/).About half of the surveys non-US respondents say they are going to move away from US clouds. But where would they go? And how can they ensure that they would be moving to is better and not from the proverbial “frying pan to the fire”?
For foreign entities, such as European corporations, choosing a cloud provider in the US can rank high on their preferred list. This is because there is a higher number of cloud providers in USA, who provide very mature solutions with very competitive pricing. Until now, all you had to worry about was the data residency (or privacy) issue, but recent events have led everyone to worry about whether a US government agency is covertly inspecting their data.
Looking for a viable solution? Don’t send sensitive data to the cloud. Send either encrypted garble or tokens that look like the original data.
When you encrypt the data before it leaves your perimeter, you control the fate of your data. You get to choose the encryption key, the specific algorithm, and key management. This means that you get to control “who gets to see what, when and how much.” This is really important. If anyone needs to see your sensitive information, they have to come to you rather than going to your data sitter. You control the “keys to your kingdom.”
The second option that is gaining momentum recently is tokenization. In this case you take the original sensitive data out, store it in a secure vault, and replace it with a random token that looks, feels, and acts like original data. The premise of tokenization is that “what is not there cannot be stolen.” Let hackers and governments have fun with it without knowing they have fake data.
This is where solutions tokenization solutions can help. It intercepts any message that goes out, in any enterprise messaging format (structured or unstructured data), and scans for the sensitive data that is in the message, removes the sensitive data (such as credit card, personal info, health records, financial records, etc.), stores them in a safe place, and replaces them with random data that is formatted exactly as the original data. The only entity that can correlate the token to the original is you and no one else.
The solution is “touchless.” This means you don’t have to touch or modify any of your existing applications. You drop these tokenization/data protection gateways in the line of traffic, regardless of the type of traffic or type of message/data, and it will automagically sense the data based on pre-defined policies and work its magic.
Caveat Emptor: You still have to be ready when the government agency comes knocking on your door asking for this information!